Karl Malone
(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The All Alphabet Team moved onto a magnificent M Team.

Loaded with Hall of Famers at each position, elite scoring, dynamite defenders, rugged rebounding and creative play making, this is a unit that will sit at the top end of the league table.

Point Guard – Sidney Moncrief

One of the greatest defensive players ever to grace the court, Moncrief plays lead guard on the M Team. Whilst not a natural distributor, he has enough creative talent around him to compensate.

The 5 time All Star, 5 time All NBA and 5 time All Defensive selection was one of the leaders of those excellent 1980’s Milwaukee Bucks teams. He effectively spent his career as a Buck (he came out of retirement to play a season in Atlanta in 1991) and gave his team 16.7 points, 5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.3 steals a night. Not overwhelming stats by any means (although his career offensive rating is a very strong 119.7), but el Sid’s influence on the basketball court isn’t measured in traditional boxscore numbers.

Moncrief was a magnificent defender: fast, agile, intelligent, strong and determined. No lesser adversary than Michael Jordan respected the man’s game – and as we saw in The Last Dance, Jordan doesn’t give out praise easily – saying of Moncrief “He’ll hound you everywhere you go, both ends of the court. You just expect it”.

The winner of the first two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, and still the holder of a number of team records, Moncrief is the flint tough spearhead of the M Team.

Shooting Guard – Pete Maravich

Showtime before there was Showtime, the artistic genius of Maravich is the raging Yang to Moncrief’s calming Yin.

One of the most creative players in the history of the game, Pistol averaged a ridiculous 44.2 points per game over his collegiate career, in an era with no shot clock and no three point line. His father/college coach – also named Peter – tracked his players shot locations and concluded that if the 3 point line was a part of the college game, Maravich would have averaged 57 points per game!

Joining a Hawks team that had incumbent stars in Walt Bellamy and Lou Hudson, Maravich tasted playoff success in his first three seasons, but didn’t make the post season again until he was 32 years old, in his final season as a pro in Boston. That’s the knock on Maravich – that he wasn’t a winning player, and his lack of relative team success bares that out. Though it’s fair to counter that Maravich had very little talent around him for the balance of his career: Hudson and Bellamy were on the back ends of their careers in Atlanta. In New Orleans, his Jazz sides were notoriously poor, with Truck Robinson being his most notable running mate.

Team success aside, Maravich’s particular brand of flash was both captivating (to younger audiences) and horrifying (to the traditionalists). How many people in the 1970’s regularly threw passes like this?

Maravich’s career wasn’t what it perhaps could have been, due to both the aforementioned lack of talent around him, and baulky knees that started to betray him in his mid 20’s. Nonetheless, Maravich was a superstar. Five All Star appearances, 4 All NBA selections, a scoring championship and career averages of 24.2 points, 4.2 boards, 5.4 assists and 1.4 steals are proof of his impact.

Like his college career, Pistol played his professional prime without a 3 point arc. It was introduced in Maravich’s final season, where he shot 10 from 15 from downtown. If Maravich came into this era of basketball, it’s conceivable he could score 40 per game.

Maravich’s 68 point masterpiece – at the time, the highest scoring game by a guard – against the Knicks demonstrates how pure Maravich’s shot was. Just look at how few of these shots catch iron:

Just as a failing body cut his career short, Maravich died at the age of 40 due to an undiagnosed heart condition. He was doing what he loved: playing basketball.

He remains the Hall of Fame’s youngest ever inductee.

Small Forward – Tracy McGrady

Despite playing in the NBA for 15 seasons, Tracy McGrady is a fine example of the star that burns brightly but fades all too quickly.

Coming into the league as an 18 year old, McGrady took some time to develop, emerging as a solid support player in his 3rd season and exploding into stardom in his 4th, earning the first of his 7 All Star appearances as he averaged 26.8 points, 7.5 boards, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks.

From that 2001 season through to the 2008 campaign, McGrady was elite, consistently scoring in the mid 20’s – he led the league in scoring twice in that span – with excellent supporting stats. He won all of his All Star spots as well as his 7 All NBA awards through that stretch. He was not only effective, he was exciting:

Unfortunately for T-Mac, knee injuries struck in his late 20s, and as he should have been in the back half of his prime he was instead a deep bench role player. To his credit, McGrady was able to stick around, but that simply led to his career having a long tail. From his age 29 season through to his retirement aged 33, T-Mac just wasn’t the same.

That’s a shame, because at his peak this man was a delight to watch. His long, languid cadence would lull unsuspecting defenders to sleep when T-Mac would kick a fast first step – especially when going left – and explode to the rim. He was also an underrated shooter, able to pull up well behind the arc, and a nifty play maker – a gift that was never featured enough given he was generally tasked with finishing plays rather than starting them.

A player that would have thrived even further in the current day, T-Mac’s Hall of Fame career was striking, yet strangely left us wanting more.

Power Forward – Karl Malone

The Mailman was the automatic choice for the power forward spot on the M Team. For many years he was considered the model from which all ‘4’s’ should be built, Malone was a dominating presence in his career.

The NBA’s 2nd leading scorer of all time had a highly decorated career, earning a pair of league MVP’s, 14 All NBA’s (spanning 3 decades), 14 All Star appearances, 4 All Defensive nominations and a pair of Olympic golds. The one glaring hole in his resume is the shiny bauble that so many from his era don’t have: a championship (thanks, MJ). There’s no shame in losing to Jordan’s Bulls juggernaut, and Utah pushed them further than any other team had. What’s more, he did it with a team that could boast Jeff Hornacek as it’s 3rd best player – a fine pro, but not exactly a star. For that alone, he (and John Stockton) should be given a Knighthood!

Malone was not a jumping jack type of player, in the way many modern power forwards are, though he was tremendously athletic, relying in his brute strength and excellent speed to beat his marker. His quick hands led to a multitude of steals and deflections, and as his career progressed he turned into an underrated play maker. His dedication to his craft was elite. A career 74.7% free throw shooter, Malone started his tenure in the NBA at sub 50% from the stripe. He eventually extended his range out to 18 feet where he was automatic if left even slightly open. His chiselled physique was a testament to the work he put in.

Malone’s partnership with John Stockton is NBA folklore – you can’t have one without the other. They remain the most potent partnership in league history, lapping the field in most points from assists between two players. It’s often asked if Stockton made Malone, or the other way around. That misses the point. They would both be all time greats without the other.

Malone, who put up 25 and 10 for his career, was the rare superstar who hustled like he was on a 10 day contract – he was a machine.

Centre – Moses Malone

There’s a very good chance that the NBA will never again see a player like Moses Malone. Check out this scroll of accolades:

  • 3x NBA MVP
  • 13x All Star
  • 8x All NBA
  • 1983 NBA Champion
  • 1983 Finals MVP
  • 6x Rebounding champion
  • 2x All Defense
  • Precisely ZERO flash

Moses Malone joins with namesake Karl to form the most well credentialed grit’n’grind front court there will ever be. Through his 21 year professional career, Malone gave his teams 20.3 points, 12.3 boards and 1.3 blocks; though at his peak he was consistently around the 27/15/2 mark – incredible numbers.

The Chairman of the Boards has a legitimate case as the best rebounder the game has ever seen, especially on the offensive glass, where he averaged over 5 offensive boards on 10 occasions, leading the league 9 times.

A physical, relentless player, Malone would simply outwork his opponent. Literally thousands of times a player would box out Malone, only to be out manoeuvred, out bodied, or simply thrown out of the way. He would beat you up both mentally and physically to the point that you just gave up trying to stop him hitting the boards.

The complete lack of flair to Malone’s game also extended off the court where the famously curt superstar gave one of the most famous interviews in NBA history. When asked for his playoff prediction heading into the ’83 postseason, Malone flatly said: “Fo’Fo’Fo’” to imply his team would sweep the entire playoffs – they lost only once on their way to the crown.

There isn’t a front court alive that would relish coming up against Moses and Karl Malone. Along with the lock down Moncrief, they give this high scoring M Team a stout backbone.

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